Animation studio Moth Collective on film-making, sensitive storytelling and choosing clients

Animation and illustration studio Moth Collective has created some beautiful films of late, from shorts highlighting the plight of tropical forests to an animated love story for the New York Times. We caught up with the trio to ask them about their work.

Animation and illustration studio Moth Collective has created some beautiful films of late, from shorts highlighting the plight of tropical forests to an animated love story for the New York Times. We caught up with the trio to ask them about their work.

Moth is made up of David Prosser, Marie-Margaux Tsakiri-Scanatovits and Daniel Chester, who met while studying animation at the Royal College of Art in 2008. “We were the only people to have come straight from a BA and shared a lot of interests, which is perhaps what drew us together from the beginning,” says Tsakiri-Scanatovits.

The group founded Moth in 2010 and has since worked on shorts for WWF, NSPCC and the Global Canopy Project, as well as a film New York Times’ Modern Love series (a collection of essays on love and relationships submitted by readers).

With a great use of colour and texture and an often painterly or handmade feel, Moth’s films portray some challenging topics in a sensitive, imaginative way. While much of the group’s work tackles some hard-hitting themes, it has also directed more light-hearted content, from Mountain, an animated short about a trip to Korea, to I Will Miss You, a humerous ghost story for Late Night Work Club…

CR: You set up Moth Collective in 2010. How did that come about and what were the first projects you worked on together?

Moth: Well Dave and Daniel directed a music video together for Ninja Tunes (for artist Andreya Triana) at the beginning of the second year of the RCA, which is really the origin of Moth Collective. Before that though we often ended up in teams together for group projects…so the three of us generally enjoyed sharing our work with each other throughout the course. One day shortly before graduation, we just decided that we would set up a collective together, and that was it, really! It just felt like a smart move to pool our work together.

The first project we worked on as a collective was a short film for a Channel 4 documentary series called ‘The Science of Art’ (disastrous, never to be seen!) At the same time we started having a dialogue with Jillian Schlesinger, director of Maidentrip, but the WWF film Cursor Swarm [below] was really our first major project together.

And why the name Moth?

‘Moth’ was a 6am light bulb moment of Margaux’s, while lying in bed delirious after an animation all-nighter. Luckily, we were able to agree on it almost instantaneously, as we had all been up all night working on our graduation films. Moths are delicate and yet persistent little creatures attracted to light (boxes). The other suggestions were ‘Lazerfist’ and ‘Hench’, which Margaux vetoed.

How does the process usually work  do you each share directorial duties, or do you assume different roles on projects?

It really depends on the nature of the project, the suitability of our own individual talents and the availability of each member at a given time, but we generally like to take all the important decisions together before splitting into different roles. Having a shared vision for the way a project should develop is something very important for us, as it is the very thing that defines us as a collective and gives our work the identity it has developed so far. Being aware of each of our individual strengths and weaknesses means we can work collaboratively and dedicate ourselves in the area we feel we can prevail the most.

Would you say there is anything that unites your work, or the way you approach storytelling?

That’s always a tricky one to answer, but we were preparing for a talk recently and a few things jumped to mind. Our RCA work often explored very personal, observational, political and environmental themes, which is probably the reason why we attracted clients like the WWF, the Global Canopy Program and feature documentary collaborations like Maidentrip. We are also fans of subtle humour and a sensitive and lyrical approach to storytelling, which hopefully shines through most of our projects, whether personal or commercial.

A lot of your films are for environmental organisations or charities, was this a conscious decision?

Really, the initial intention of Moth was to have a platform to do work that we felt passionate about and gave us creative freedom, which effectively resulted in us building a portfolio of work around charities, environmental NGOs and independent film-making. So, it was never really a conscious decision but more of a natural progression. Things have changed a little now and running as a full time studio means we can take on a lot more work, which does bring more diversity. We are still very selective about the projects and clients we work with, it’s just important to make sure something more commercial still feels like ‘us’.

And a lot of your films are based on true stories or personal experience. Do you find this any different to animating fiction?

There isn’t really a distinction between the two for us necessarily. The reason why clients choose animation for these kinds of projects, as opposed to heavy hitting live-action imagery, is partly to create a fictional universe that parallels reality somehow. We feel there still needs to be a visual narrative there and so the lines between the two can feel blurry.

You recently worked on some animations for the feature documentary Maidentrip (a film about 14-year-old Lauren Dekker, who in 2012, became the youngest person to sail around the world). Is this something you’d like to do more of?

Certainly! Working on Maidentrip was a great experience, as it introduced us to the world of feature documentary film-making and sparked an interest in our work which has lead to further collaborations, two of them to be released in 2016. A lot of the stuff we do has tight deadlines, so having a project that might last 6 months and being able to delve deep into a story is something we really enjoy.

What are you working on at the moment?

We just finished some fun projects, one for the New York Times’ Modern Love column, and website design and animation for the Climate Reality Project founded by Al Gore. Right now, hopefully a new feature film collaboration, developing a new film for the Global Canopy Program and desperately trying to work on our own film too, which is to be part of the second anthology of films by the Late Night Work Club. Ah, and illustrating a non-fiction book which should be out next year!

We would love to have the opportunity to work some more with musicians and theatre, as well as push for more feature film and documentary collaborations. We also recently signed with RSA Design and Animation [which also represents Tom Hingston, Shynola & Herve & Francois], something we’re really excited about, which hopefully means we can have more access and support on projects like that.

And where do the three of you find inspiration is there anyone/anything that has been a particular influence on your work?

The first influences are always found in the environment in which you grew up. Margaux has an architect father who is really passionate about storytelling and characters. Daniel’s house was full of colourful paintings and rows of books from his politically active grandmother, and Dave grew up in a small English town in the Midlands, which is strongly reflected in the feel of his university films. Painters like David Hockney, Henri Rousseau, constructivist art and architecture have been very inspiring to us, and experiences like travelling always enhance our work with new ideas, themes and colours.

Studying in England with tutors who really established a British animation style in the 80s was definitely a huge influence too, as they really encouraged us to make work that was more spontaneous and experimental. Ultimately, being surrounded by so many talented practitioners in our industry, we are constantly pushed to try and do good stuff.

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